As part of the National Design Awards, which is organised by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York, the public were invited to vote online for their favourite design from a pool of 20 works that emphasises how innovative design makes a difference in our everyday lives. At the awards gala, which was held on 17 October, this People’s Design Award was given to the PackH2O™, a low-cost, durable and efficient human water transport tool created by Greif Inc, a global industrial packaging products and services company.

In developing countries it is often the responsibility of women and children to transport the household water from source to home, and they do this by carrying jerry cans and buckets by hand or on their heads. According to Greif, in Africa women walk an average of 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometres) each day to get water.

“I am truly delighted that the American public has chosen to recognise this design solution for the developing world. Millions of people around the world lack access to a reliable source of clean water, and the PackH2O demonstrates the power of design to address this critical problem,” says Caroline Baumann, director of the museum.

David Fischer, president and CEO of Greif, was at the awards gala to receive the award, which was rather apt as he was the one that originally came up with the idea for the PackH2O. It was while he was in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and saw women struggling to carry water using dirty, heavy jerry cans and buckets. He knew that Greif had the expertise to come up with a better alternative.

Responding to Fischer’s challenge, the Greif design team came up with a hands-free, ergonomic solution engineered to evenly distribute weight on the back. Made of a flexible polyethylene material that is tough and puncture-resistant, the design features adjustable shoulder straps and a removable liner that can be sanitised in the sun.

Other features include a 20-litre capacity, a roll-down closure that reduces spills and waste, a protected spout to keep water clean and a collapsible structure that is seven times lighter and smaller than a jerry can.

The design prototype was tested with users in different and diverse communities where it was evaluated for efficiency, durability and comfort. The design team then incorporated this feedback through several finely tuned iterations.

PackH2O, a socially conscious distribution and marketing company, was then set up to get the backpack to those users that needed it most. As well as drawing on Greif’s established manufacturing and distribution infrastructure, it has also partnered with other nonprofit organisations and foundations. For instance, Balmer Lawrie in India ordered 5000 backpacks, which arrived in Rajasthan in July. This will be followed by 20,000 more.

“One in seven people globally are affected by the water crisis. The problem includes avoiding contamination and eliminating health risks when bringing water home,” says Tony Somers, COO of PackH2O. “Through our partnership with Greif and Balmer Lawrie, we have the ability to positively affect up to 25,000 lives.”

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